Daily Office:
Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Matins ¶ While we’re greatly cheered to read Fernanda Santos’s front-page Times story, “A Kitchen-For-Rent Is a Lifeline for the Laid-Off,” in which we’re introduced to a handful of cooks and caterers who are making the most of a professional kitchen in Queens that formerly served as a continuing-education facility for a labor-union constituency. But one or two mysteries stand between us and perfect happiness. What is the name of the kitchen, or of the not-for-profit organization that operates it? And is this organization self-supporting, or will it continue to rely upon grants and subsidies? Who actually owns the plant, which is currently rented to the not-for-profit for $1 per year? There is nothing in the story to make us doubt that it’s presenting a very worthy cause, but whether or not it depends on the kindness of strangers is a very important detail.

Lauds ¶ At The House Next Door, John Lingan frames Godard’s Breathless, one of the most influential films of all time (because it’s also one of the most intriguing), alongside the witless 1983 remake — which we’ve never seen. We’re tempted to, now, though, just to feel Mr Lingan’s perspicacity more keenly.

Prime ¶ Nothing clears up mental fog better than the dismantlement of a sloppy and tendentious financial story, preferably in the Journal, by Felix Salman. “The WSJ mistrusts companies which pay down debt” is a golden example. He shows that Sharon Terlep is still drinking boom-time Kool-Aid, intoxicated by “the leverage-is-good meme [that] simply refuses to die.” Felix carefully unpacks the article’s double-talk about General Motors debt, and raises a serious question about an alleged company statement.

Tierce ¶ The fascination of Chuck Dimock’s “I Was A Male Chatbot” is a little bit perverted: in place of the ironic levity that might so easily have been inspired by his pretending to be an approachable, unthreatening female on a retail sales Web site, we get an orthodox analysis in terms of gender theory and artificial intelligence. The piece is quite lucid, but it seems vaguely Turingesque itself, as if written by a computer with an underdeveloped sense of humor. Which just figures, if you think about it: social theorists, longing for the patina of scientific rigor, are probably going to wind up sounding less than human. (As It Ought To Be; via The Rumpus)

¶ So we’ve added Tom Scocca’s “conversation” with Eliza about today’s “machine-mediated” communications. What’s so funny?

Sext ¶ We watch The Family Stone every year at Christmas; one of its powerful themes is the terrible but harmonisable dissonance between Christmas and cancer. Tracy Clark-Flory’s “All I Want For Christmas Is Nothing” sounds a carol in the same dark but warm key. In seven beautifully-crafted paragraphs, Clark-Flory brings her parents — a mother weakened by the final stages of lung cancer, a father, overcoming his aversion to Christmas, determined to make his wife comfortable — vividly alive. (Salon; via The Morning News)

Nones ¶ At the Globe, columnist James Carroll refrains from stating what every sentence in his piece points to: the possibility that Ireland entered the Twenty-First Century with an optimism so out of character that calamity was inevitable. Connecting the lending bubble to the religious abuse scandals seems particularly astute: both disasters show it to be harder than expected to get beyond the blacker parts of Irish history. We hope that a genuine Irish Republic will emerge from all the ruin. (via Real Clear World)

Vespers ¶ We share Laura Miller’s belief that readers of popular fiction know what they like, and that literary fiction doesn’t have what they’re after. Ms Miller is responding to novelist Edward Docx’s claim that there would be less Larsson and Brown, and more Franzen and Amis, dust jackets on view in the Underground if only riders could be made aware of the latters’ richly interesting prose. But richly interesting prose is just what most readers can’t abide. The Editor has never forgotten an important critical insight that was imparted by his sister: “And the best thing is that you can skim over a lot of it.” (Salon; via The Rumpus)

Compline ¶ Roxane Gay has the gift of being passionate and level-headed at the same time. Writing about her life in academia, she claims that she “wouldn’t give it up for anything,” but she begs to disabuse readers of any fantasies that they may have about its cushiness. She manages to convince us of her personal satisfaction while at the same time making it clear that her job, or assemblage of jobs, is an underpaid rat-race. We’re left more convinced than ever that higher education in the humanities needs not only a complete re-think but also a detachment from research institutions. (HTMLGiant)

Have a Look

Beethoven snips at YouTube. (MetaFilter)

¶ “Map of Facebook Friends Connections Lights Up the World.” (Discoblog)


¶ The head of Henri IV (1589-1610; decapitated 1793) can be re-interred at St Denis as genuine. (Cosmos; via The Morning News)

The Lawrence/Julie & Julia Project. ” You don’t have the enzymes to honor family either!” (via MetaFilter)

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